Parisa grew up in Iran, and her parents never had the chance to attend college themselves. However, they always knew the importance of education and encouraged Parisa to pursue her passions from a young age. With their support, she studied math and physics in high school and later, aerospace engineering at Sharif University of Technology, the top engineering school in Iran.
After Parisa got married, she moved to the United States with her husband to pursue her master’s degree and eventually, her PhD. in mechanical engineering. During her doctoral program at Georgia Institute of Technology, Parisa published journals on electronic material and nano-material. She also began working on a project she feels particularly proud of, involving scaffold partition engineering.
“We make heart muscle tissue in our lab using patient-specific stem cells. These types of cells can then be used for the treatment of a damaged heart due to heart defects or after a stroke.”
Working on a medical project with a mechanical engineering background was not easy at first, but it helped Parisa discover her interest in applying her knowledge to medicine. However, finding a postdoctoral research job without the appropriate background proved to be a challenge. She searched for a job for an entire year, but couldn’t find an opportunity that felt right. Parisa was patient and continued to believe in herself. She was determined to find a role she felt passionate about. Luckily, her decision not to settle paid off, when she received funding for postdoctoral research at Harvard University as an American Association of University Women fellow.
Once she arrived at Harvard, Parisa was able to take the medical school classes she needed to pursue her combined interests in human health and mechanical engineering. Parisa tackled the challenge of leveling up her biology knowledge and excelled in classes with the help of students around her. She eventually received another fellowship from the National Institute of Health to continue her postdoctoral work at Harvard.
Despite its challenges, Parisa skillfully finds a balance between being a mother to her 16-month old baby and her career.
“It’s always challenging because I don’t have as much time as other people might have. Sometimes the field is so competitive… and it’s a lot of responsibility. But when you like your job and you love your family, you enjoy both.”
Even with a busy schedule, Parisa still finds time to do outreach in her community. She leads Women in Science and Engineering workshops, gives tours of her lab to middle school girls, and encourages young female students to pursue careers in STEM.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to try and encourage women to go into STEM fields and help get more undergraduate women involved in research. Hopefully they will be inspired to go to graduate school and become faculty. We need more female students and faculty in academia.”
Parisa is now an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Technological University where she continues her research on mechanical behavior of materials and medical devices. Parisa has overcome many challenges and has achieved much success, but above all her story reminds us that persistence and patience will get you far.
Parisa Pour Shahid Saeed Abadi received a 2015-16 AAUW American Fellowship that funded her postdoctoral research in mechanical engineering at Harvard University. Her story is told in partnership with AAUW, which has a long history of opening doors for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), from the classroom to Capitol Hill.